Joe Buck swears by him. So does Howie Long. James Brown, too.
When Michael Weisman, then executive producer of NBC Sports,
hired Bob Costas in 1980 to be an NFL studio host, he asked
Costas how NBC could best accommodate him. The reply? "I need
Steve Horn."

Titularly, Horn, 50, is an editorial consultant, an off-camera
guy who feeds information to the on-air stars. His title hardly
begins to describe what he does for the Fox and NBC announcers
named above. Horn is their Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, their
annotated Baseball Encyclopedia and Pro Football Encyclopedia,
their Professor Whoopie, their History Channel and their Google
search. Horn is the ultimate phone-a-friend.

He chats up every general manager, scout and assistant coach.
During a broadcast he will anticipate a relevant anecdote or
statistic and feed it to the announcers. His method was in
evidence when working with Buck and analyst Tim McCarver during a
recent Fox telecast of a Cardinals-Mets game. Horn gave the
on-air men the proper pronunciation of recent New York call-up
Timoneil Perez's first name. ("It's Tim-o-NEEL.") Then, noticing
Braves scout Bill Lajoie in the stands, Horn recalled a minor
league brawl that occurred between Lajoie and McCarver in 1962;
he suggested that McCarver recount it. In the bottom of the
eighth, McCarver did just that.

Horn, a bachelor, never takes a vacation. Last month he spent
Saturdays seated alongside Buck during Fox's Baseball Game of the
Week and Sundays in Los Angeles on the set of NFL Sunday. Often
he was on the phone to Sydney with NBC Olympics studio host
Costas. This month he will work for Fox and Costas (the
announcer, not NBC, employs Horn) during the baseball playoffs.

Raised in St. Louis, Horn graduated from Columbia in 1972 and
returned to his hometown, where he was one of a few hundred
devotees of the Spirits of St. Louis of the American Basketball
Association. Costas was the Spirits' play-by-play man, and he and
Horn became friends. "Listen," says Horn in his signature
monotone, "this was like attending a high school basketball game.
It wasn't as if Bob was unapproachable." Buck, who is also based
in St. Louis, met Horn in '94. Before long Buck and Costas had
fashioned a latter-day Missouri Compromise for Horn's services.

"What's funny is that Steve is literally inches from the
spotlight," says Buck, "but he wants no part of it. In this
business there's something to be said for that." --J.W.

COLOR PHOTO For the apt anecdote, Buck (left), McCarver (right) and others lean on the encyclopedic Horn.

For adult jocks, a new site provides places and pals to play with

When you're the new kid on the block, finding a game is
relatively easy--if you're nine years old. Just stand in your
driveway with a basketball, a football or a baseball mitt, and
soon someone will ask you to play. But how do you do this when
you're 34? "You come to us," says Andy Solomon, president and
CEO of the online sports recreation community
"We'll find a team for you."

StreetZebra recently acquired Sport & Social Clubs, a company
that manages leagues in 18 cities. Among its other features, posts home pages for the clubs' leagues and
teams. Find the "League Tools" link on the site and under your
metropolis you'll see a menu of activities, from billiards to
basketball to boot-camp fitness. You and your friends can
register as a team, or you can sign up solo and the club will put
you on a squad. In the Philadelphia Sport & Social Club this
fall, for instance, you can play coed floor hockey (three men,
two women) on Wednesday nights for $510 as a team or for $80 as
an individual.

"Being in a league gives you more of an incentive to show up,"
says Matt Boler, 34, an entrepreneur who lives in Chicago and
each Sunday morning plays on a coed football team called Older,
Injured but Still Playing. "If we tried doing this on our own,
people would stick with it for a month, tops."

Says Solomon, "It's sort of like a happy hour where you keep
score." His site recently began trolling for undergrads by
purchasing --J.W.